Major League Soccer’s schedule makers earned their paychecks when they put together this weekend’s slate of matches.
Of the 11 clashes on the schedule, all of them have playoff implications of some sort, most carry plenty of intrigue, and the menu is headlined by some real gems.
Among the best are Vancouver’s visit to Children’s Mercy Park to face Sporting Kansas City in a clash of two of the West’s best, while New York City FC visits Chicago to take on the Fire in a match that will go a long way in helping determine who will grab the second seed in the East.
The New York Red Bulls head north to face a Toronto FC side that can clinch the Supporters’ Shield with a victory. The Red Bulls are riding the league’s longest winless slide, and desperately need to stop the bleeding. TFC has suffered a pair of losses, and will be looking to regain its top form ahead of the playoffs.
FC Dallas ended its own nightmare winless slide with Wednesday’s win against Colorado, but a trip to Orlando City will present a tough test for Oscar Pareja’s side.
This weekend could also see the last hurrah for some team’s playoff hopes, including San Jose, Montreal and New England, who all need wins to boost their fading chances.
Here is a look ahead to some of the key talking points in MLS ahead of Week 30:
IT’S A BIG WEEK FOR … THE RED BULLS
The atmosphere at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night went from party to funeral in the blink of an eye, and the cruel twist of an own goal, with Fidel Escobar dooming the New York Red Bulls to a 3-3 draw against D.C. United. It was a match that could have provided the Red Bulls the boost they desperately needed, and the three points their playoff hopes were starving for.
Instead, the Red Bulls watched their unbeaten run increase to seven league matches, eight matches overall when you count their recent U.S. Open Cup final defeat. They have been bailed out by the terrible form of the two teams chasing them for the last playoff spot in the East — Montreal and New England — and now have to face Toronto FC in their quest to halt their slide.
“On one level, we have a good team, and on another level we’re our own worst enemy,” a frustrated Jesse Marsch said after Wednesday’s draw against D.C. United. “We’re commanding every game we play, every single game we play we’re pretty much controlling the game the way we want to control it, but we have to work so hard for our chances, and then when we do score it seems like we find ways to literally just give goals away.”
Wednesdays’ 3-3 draw against D.C. United was another match that saw the Red Bulls outplay an opponent only to fail to secure the three points.
Things get much tougher on Saturday, with a trip to take on a Toronto FC side that has just one home loss all season. TFC can win the Supporters’ Shield with a victory, which will provide even more incentive for the East leaders, who are also looking to halt their own two-game losing skid.
From a standings standpoint the match looks like a blowout waiting to happen, but the reality is the Red Bulls haven’t played poorly during their winless slide. That said, they will have to play much better if they are going to snap their winless streak at BMO Field.
“It’s the best team in the league, at their place. It won’t be easy,” Marsch said. “We’ve got to get back on the horse and go after it again.”
DON’T MISS … SPORTING KC vs. WHITECAPS
First place in the Western Conference is on the line at Children’s Mercy Park, where surging Sporting KC will look to overtake the first-place Vancouver Whitecaps. Carl Robinson’s side is fresh off a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Seattle, and must now regroup on short rest and take on a rested KC side that is the only unbeaten home team in MLS.
That’s a tall order indeed, but the Whitecaps must be aware that they could slide from first place to fourth place with a loss, so they can’t afford another flat performance like the one they delivered in Seattle. The Whitecaps attack will need Yordy Reyna at his best to try and unlock Sporting KC’s league-best defense, though Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza will do their part to try and keep the Peruvian playmaker quiet.
Offensively, Sporting KC has evolved into a much tougher team to game-plan for since trading away Dom Dwyer. The versatility of its stable of forwards makes things tough, whether it’s the speedy Latif Blessing or the excellent movement and well-timed runs of Diego Rubio and Daniel Salloi. The Whitecaps center back tandem of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker is one of the better pairings in the league, but they could find themselves stretched in space by Sporting KC’s dynamic forwards.
MATCH-UPS TO WATCH
Sacha Kljestan vs. Michael Bradley. The old friends and former USMNT teammates collide in a match-up that will go a long way in determining if TFC lifts the Supporters’ Shield on Saturday.
Dom Dwyer vs. Matt Hedges. Though Bruce Arena will have already made his selections for the upcoming USMNT squad, we could see both Dwyer and Hedges called in. If not, this match-up could be a chance for one of them to show they should have been called.
Dax McCarty vs. Maxi Moralez. Two of the league’s best do battle as McCarty tries to keep tabs on the speedy and elusive Moralez, who is the engine of the NYCFC attack.
Ilie Sanchez vs. Yordy Reyna. The best battle in the week’s best match, this one promises to be fun to watch as the underrated Sanchez gets his chance to show why he’s one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS.
Clint Dempsey vs. Alejandro Bedoya. These USMNT teammates could share a plane ride to Orlando after their battle on Sunday, but not before they lock horns at Talen Energy Stadium.
Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Drew Moor. The cerebral Moor will do his part to ensure Wright-Phillips doesn’t find too many defensive gaps to exploit, but that’s easier said than done.
Albert Rusnak vs. Jermaine Jones. RSL’s great run has been driven, in part, by Rusnak’s playmaking, and Jones must shut him down if the Galaxy have any hope of a victory.
Fredy Montero vs. Ike Opara. Though he will have help from Matt Besler, Opara will likely spend plenty of time trying to contain the ever-dangerous Montero.
Lee Nguyen vs. Carlos Carmona. Nguyen is one of the hottest midfielders in MLS, but Carmona’s engine and tenacity could neutralize him.
Kei Kamara vs. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Kamara didn’t play in the Atlanta United-Revs meeting in Atlanta, and will surely be eager to help exact some revenge for the 7-0 thrashing.
WEEK 30 PREDICTIONS
Orlando City 2, FC Dallas 2. Finally winning a match after such a long drought should give FC Dallas some confidence heading to Florida, but slowing down the Lions attack at Orlando City stadium won’t be easy.
TORONTO FC 3, Red Bulls 1. The Red Bulls will make this one interesting, but look for TFC to regain their best form and roll at home.
CREW 3, D.C. United 1. The D.C. attack has generated seven goals in two matches, but the Crew have been in excellent form over the past month and will punish the D.C. defense.
REVOLUTION 2, Atlanta United 1. Remember the 7-0 Atlanta United blowout of the Revs earlier this month? New England does, and the Revs boast an excellent home record and the motivation to exact some revenge.
FIRE 2, NYCFC 1. The Fire haven’t done so well in the second half of the season, but at home they should regroup and slow down an NYCFC side that hasn’t been quite the attacking powerhouse in recent weeks we’ve grown used to seeing.
Dynamo 2, Minnesota United 0. The Dynamo have been flat of late, and the Loons are a dangerous team capable of giving any team trouble when their attack is clicking. Look for Houston to build on its comeback draw against LA by winning at home on Saturday.
Rapids 1, Impact 1. The Impact are fading out of the playoff picture, and facing the altitude in Colorado will only make things tougher. The Rapids are pretty bad, but they’re much better at home.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY 2, Whitecaps 0. Fatigue will play a part in this one, as Vancouver feels the effects of the midweek loss to Seattle, while Sporting KC jumps out to an early lead and cruises.
Galaxy 0, REAL SALT LAKE 2. The Galaxy funeral march continues as RSL comes in on a roll that it’s tough to see LA stopping.
Earthquakes 0, TIMBERS 1. The San Jose free fall shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but we still see the Earthquakes making things tough for Portland at Avaya Stadium. The Timbers still win though.
Union 0, SOUNDERS 2. Cross-country trips are always a challenge, but look for the Sounders to come in confident after beating Vancouver, even if this does feel like a trap game for the MLS Cup champions.
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